Background: Hepatitis B virus (HBV) isolates have been classified in eight genotypes, A to H, which exhibit distinct geographical distributions. Genotypes A, D and F are predominant in Brazil, a country formed by a miscegenated population, where the proportion of individuals from Caucasian, Amerindian and African origins varies by region. Genotype F, which is the most divergent, is considered indigenous to the Americas. A systematic molecular characterization of HBV isolates from different parts of the world would be invaluable in establishing HBV evolutionary origins and dispersion patterns. A large-scale study is needed to map the region-by-region distribution of the HBV genotypes in Brazil.
Results: Genotyping by PCR-RFLP of 303 HBV isolates from HBsAg-positive blood donors showed that at least two of the three genotypes, A, D, and F, co-circulate in each of the five geographic regions of Brazil. No other genotypes were identified. Overall, genotype A was most prevalent (48.5%), and most of these isolates were classified as subgenotype A1 (138/153; 90.2%). Genotype D was the most common genotype in the South (84.2%) and Central (47.6%) regions. The prevalence of genotype F was low (13%) countrywide. Nucleotide sequencing of the S gene and a phylogenetic analysis of 32 HBV genotype F isolates showed that a great majority (28/32; 87.5%) belonged to subgenotype F2, cluster II. The deduced serotype of 31 of 32 F isolates was adw4. The remaining isolate showed a leucine-to-isoleucine substitution at position 127.
Conclusion: The presence of genotypes A, D and F, and the absence of other genotypes in a large cohort of HBV infected individuals may reflect the ethnic origins of the Brazilian population. The high prevalence of isolates from subgenotype A1 (of African origin) indicates that the African influx during the colonial slavery period had a major impact on the circulation of HBV genotype A currently found in Brazil. Although most genotype F isolates belonged to cluster II, the presence of some isolates belonging to clusters I (subgroup Ib) and IV suggests the existence of two or more founder viral populations of genotype F in Brazil.